New York, November 8, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the White House to restore the credentials of Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent. The White House last night suspended Acosta’s credentials after a heated exchange with President Donald Trump during a press conference earlier in the day.
The incident comes amid an atmosphere of heightened hostility toward the media in the U.S. In late October, CNN was targeted with explosive devices sent through the mail. Last night, the Washington, D.C., home of Fox News host Tucker Carlson was targeted by protesters, and police were called to his house.
“Journalists should be able to do their job without fear that a tough series of questions will provoke retaliation,” said CPJ’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch. “The White House should immediately reinstate Jim Acosta’s press pass, and refrain from punishing reporters by revoking their access–that’s not how a free press works.”
“In the current climate, we hope President Trump will stop insulting and denigrating reporters and media outlets, it’s making journalists feel unsafe,” added Radsch.
During the press conference, Acosta aggressively questioned Trump; when Trump tried to move on to other reporters, Acosta continued to ask questions, and both men interrupted each other repeatedly. A White House intern eventually moved to take away Acosta’s microphone. Trump ended the exchange by insulting Acosta, calling him a “rude terrible person,” and saying that when CNN reports “fake news,” they are the “enemy of the people.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later claimed on Twitter that Acosta had been “placing his hands” on the female intern who took away his microphone, and that she would be taking away his “hard pass,” the credential that allows reporters access to the White House grounds. Sanders tweeted out a video of the incident. The video, according to Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, appeared to have been edited to make Acosta’s attempt to hold on to the microphone appear more aggressive than it was. Acosta tweeted on Wednesday night that he was later denied entry to the White House.
The White House’s treatment of Acosta drew wide rebuke from press freedom and journalism organizations. A number of reporters seated near Acosta during the exchange, including Jeff Mason of Reuters, contradicted the White House’s version of events. The White House Correspondents Association called on the White House to reinstate Acosta and “immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.” In a statement posted to Twitter, CNN said the White House’s decision was a “retaliation for [Jim Acosta’s] challenging questions.” The network also said that “Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied” about Acosta’s interaction with the intern.